As in any relationship, life in the Peace Corps follows a definite process. Everything has a beginning, middle and an end. We can ignore the process, but we cannot escape experiencing it. Conversely, we can acknowledge it, and in so doing relish each stage to its fullest extent.
I began my service full of eager anticipation for what was about to unfold. The first chapter of my PC commitment consisted of the first orientation week and then two months of training. It was a great beginning in which we each became familiar with the characters and the central plot, along with awareness that numerous sub-plots would unfold. The beginning stage of PC life teased us with glimpses into the workings of this world-wide program and the basics of the culture into which we were about to be thrust. This included acquiring functional use of a new language complete with an entirely foreign alphabet; some of us did this with two languages and two new cultures simultaneously. Facing, and mastering, the challenges at this stage caused us to develop a great sense of identity with our new culture and host country national friends.
After we were sworn in and moved to various locations around the country, we began our immersion in our newly adopted culture. Some of us in Macedonia lived with host families, while others lived in private accommodations with varying degrees of creature comfort. Our common experiences would revolve around our places within the communities to which we were assigned. The middle of this book became our personal experiences and what we could, or could not do with our aspirations and personal/professional skills. As we lived and worked our ways through, we each began to develop either a growing affinity
or a distancing from our new cultural world. Like an engrossing book, we began to approach the unfolding of the plot of our experiences with true enjoyment. ,
Then, there comes that moment when we realize there will be an end to what we are experiencing. We begin to either avoid looking ahead, or we begin to make adjustments according to our expectations. We either hope that the saga will shift and we can continue to enjoy it all, or we begin to mentally prepare for the closure of relationships and activities, and try to focus on what new beginnings we might establish. As I anticipate our COS (Closure of Service) Conference next month, I recognize that I am full of mixed emotions. I feel that throughout the middle part of my service I have increasingly become more personally connected and effective in what I try to accomplish with all of the host country nationals. I have also begun to experience friendships with HCNs and PCVs in ways that I have rarely done in the past. In this regard I’m unable to steel myself against the rapidly approaching close of my service. I do not want to stop what I have been developing and experiencing. Nor can I imagine changing the relationships I have established and have come to treasure every bit as much as relationships in my life before Peace Corps.
For some, extending their service might serve as a sequel, but that, too, will have its own beginning, middle and end. That will be compressed because the extension will not match the previous 27 months in time, or in depth of development. Most of it will merely be a continuation of the same with little in the way of additional new experiences. The rewards will be considerably less than those already experienced. The cost-benefit scale of time spent and benefits gained will tip strongly toward little gained at great expense. Careers will be delayed. Relationships with those back in the States will be strained even further. Therefore, as I have frequently anguished about whether to extend, I must lean toward accepting that this book is about to end. Now I must work toward closure with everyone, especially those who have become so dear to me. It is difficult to acknowledge this, but I know I must.
I will have to seek a new book to engross me; finding one equal to this experience will be difficult.
I will never forget this book/chapter as one of the best ever in my life.